The first line of defence in the protection against flooding is ‘suffocating from too much red tape’ says an East Riding of Yorkshire Council review panel.
The panel says the important work of Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) is suffering because of over-regulation by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) agencies and instead they should be allowed more self-regulation to get on with their job.
The panel also believes IDBs need to raise their profile with the public to justify the significant sums of public money they spend and prove they are value for money.
The overview and scrutiny panel has carried out an 11-month review of IDBs, the local independent public bodies responsible for maintaining rivers, drainage channels, outfalls and pumping stations, as well as playing a key role in reducing flood risk to more than 600,000 people and nearly 900,000 properties across England.
The review, carried out by a panel of East Riding councillors, has now published its report, in which it praised the important work carried out by IDBs, but makes a number of recommendations to help them improve for the future.
The panel’s recommendations include:
• Cutting the amount of ‘red tape’ imposed on IDBs by DEFRA agencies. Boards complained about the excessive time and cost it took to get the necessary licences in order to carry out essential flood risk work that impacted directly on East Riding communities. Instead the panel felt it would be more efficient and effective if DEFRA agreed a scheme of ‘standing advice’, which would allow IDBs to self-regulate, become more productive and reduce costs to the council tax payer.
• IDBs should be given longer term financial stability to increase their operations, and could be given greater responsibility and more freedom to carry out work on behalf of the Environment Agency. The panel felt IDBs are in some instances the best placed organisations to carry out long term or larger scale projects in their local area.
• Encouraging boards to raise their profile in the community to let residents know the valuable work they carry out. For such sizeable sums of public money spent, relatively little is known or heard about IDBs by tax paying members of the public. Significant sums of money are levied and spent by IDBs. The IDBs in the East Riding have placed a levy of £1.4million on East Riding of Yorkshire Council for 2017-2018. In turn that would help make them more financially transparent and accountable in order to justify the money they spend and prove they are value for money.
• Encouraging smaller IDBs to work together, form consortia or merge in order to operate more effectively and efficiently.
• Capping board membership to 17 members.
• Encouraging IDBs to work more closely with parish and town councils to appoint representatives with appropriate skills and local knowledge when vacancies arise.
• Giving newly appointed board members better training and briefing on their roles.
• Introducing a new standard range of key performance indicators for boards to encourage the sharing of good practice.
• Requesting IDBs, town and parish councils to work together to map out river ownership in their areas, and to make landowners more aware of their rights and responsibilities.
The report follows close consultation with IDB members from across the East Riding to get an understanding of the challenges they faced, as well as with the Environment Agency and the Association of Drainage Authorities.
The panel’s report was approved by East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s overview management committee today (Thursday 14 September).
The report will now be sent to all Internal Drainage Boards across the country for their information.
Councillor Chris Matthews, chairman of the review panel, said: “Internal Drainage Boards play a crucial role in reducing the risk of flooding in the East Riding, and across the country.
“This review has brought to the forefront some important issues which, if addressed, we feel will bring about improvements and efficiencies to enable the boards to do even more valuable work in their local communities.
“We recognise the boards are independent authorities in their own right and it is for their members to agree any changes in governance.
“As the local lead flood authority, East Riding of Yorkshire Council will continue to support the Internal Drainage Boards in our area and the important work they undertake.”
Internal Drainage Boards
Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) are local independent public bodies responsible for managing water levels in low-lying areas where there is a special drainage need. They also contribute to flood risk management and the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in urban and rural areas.
There are 112 IDBs in England, covering 1.2 million hectares, which is almost 10% of the total land area in the country.
There are 14 Internal Drainage Boards in the East Riding, the majority of which are managed through consortia.
The boards across England play a key role in reducing flood risk to more than 600,000 people, nearly 900,000 properties, industries and infrastructure, including oil refineries, power stations, major industrial premises, motorways and the rail network.
They operate and maintain more than 500 pumping stations, 22,000km of watercourse, 175 automatic weed screen cleaners and numerous sluices and weirs.
Much of their work involves the maintenance of rivers, drainage channels, outfalls and pumping stations, helping with drainage for new developments, and advising on planning applications.
IDBs raise funding mainly through drainage rates paid directly by farmers and landowners and through special levies on councils through council tax, as well as contributions from the Environment Agency.
Together IDBs across England spend more than £61million in 2015-2016.
The East Riding’s IDBs have placed a levy of £1.4million on East Riding of Yorkshire Council for 2017-2018.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council is the lead local flood authority for the East Riding, responsible for managing the risk of flooding from surface water, groundwater and watercourses.
Press Officer, East Rising of Yorkshire Council